December 1941: The end of an era Conclusion

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Manila after World War II: The old Legislative Building that served as the Japanese headquarters and is now the National Museum (left photo) the Chinatown burning PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHN TEWELL, FLICKR.COM

Manila after World War II: The old Legislative Building that served as the Japanese headquarters and is now the National Museum (left photo) the Chinatown burning PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHN TEWELL, FLICKR.COM

Indeed, when graduation came, the seventh-graders who were given charge of the ceremonies made sure that when the sixth-graders entered the auditorium the piano music from “Aida” stopped. They were then herded to the balcony where they watched the seventh-graders receive their certificates and their valedictorian giving the speech. The sixth-graders later got their report cards with a note that they had finished elementary and were eligible for high school.

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Their class made up for this snub by holding a raucous party in their rooms—singing “Roll Out the Barrel” and gently jeering at any seventh-grader passing through their corridor. Daisy was in her resplendent white and he was too shy to approach her. She finally noticed him and asked where he was going for high school. He did not know yet but said it might be in the university where his father taught. On her part, she said they were moving up to Baguio where her parents ran a boarding school. Could he write her? Of course, she said, and gave him her address. Before he could enjoy the last moments with her and his fellow graduates, his father came to pick him up. All the way home, his thoughts were of Daisy.

IV

WHEN he got to the car they were all there waiting—except for Jimmy. Dedong said that his friends backed off from their swimming date at Rizal Memorial. Rosie and Selin were fetched by his father after receiving the news of school closing. Then Jimmy came to say he had practice drill that afternoon at UP High and would just go home by himself. He just turned 17 and was serious about a military career. He was scheduled to take the entrance exam for the military academy on December 15.

After an early lunch they decided to go by way of Mabini, then Harrison to Cuneta. Along the streets knots of people were huddled together, some reading the new extras. At home his mother was agitated. Talk in the neighborhood was the impending air raid on Nichols Field. The fiesta of the Immaculada Concepcion was called off, and people were preparing to evacuate their homes. Their neighbors whose father worked at Nichols said however that they were not leaving because the Americans were ready to repel the Japanese.

They were themselves divided about leaving that night. Elias and his older brothers had wanted to leave if at all the next day. Besides they asked where were they going. His father said his long-time colleague Mr. Villafuerte had a big house on Mayon St. in the outskirts of Manila.

So this was evacuation, much like the civilians in Europe with their belongings. Each one was to pack only one bag and a mat roll. In packing he made sure he had the letters of Daisy—about her stay in Baguio, Burnharm Park and new friends. Every night he would read them inside his mosquito net using a flashlight, looking for subtexts in the friendly tenor of her letters. One time, during a practice blackout, his mother saw and chided him, “turn off that light or the wardens will see us.” He turned off the light but in the darkness glowed Daisy’s face.

That early evening they drove through traffic on Taft, past Pasay market where people were buying up supplies. Near Jai Alai there was a convoy of army trucks bearing soldiers and Japanese civilians being brought to the Old Bilibid on Azcarraga. Otherwise, things seemed normal; people going about their business as usual, and the sight of their car with bags and tampipi strapped around it was the object of some derisive laughter from a crowd in Quiapo.

He and his brothers were assigned to sleep with the Villafuerte sons in the tower room of the house overlooking Manila still ablaze with lights like there was no war on. Shortly all the lights were out but the boys talked through the night. He had to forego his ritual of reading Daisy’s letters before going to sleep.

When he woke up, he saw Jimmy and the rest by the window pointing excitedly to the south where searchlights were scouring the black sky. Manila was covered in darkness but in the distance anti-air craft guns started to send tracers and shells bursting in air like fireworks. Fire in the distance, everybody said, was in Nichols Field. No sirens were heard. Manila was caught by surprise.

At daybreak they heard on radio that 50 American planes were caught on the ground and destroyed. At breakfast Mr. Villafuerte addressed his father, “You are lucky.” His father and Jimmy decided to check on the house in Pasay. They came back that afternoon to report that Cuneta was not bombed but their neighbor’s wife was crying. The explosions seemed so close and deafening and the ground shook everytime a bomb fell. She said they were leaving for Canlubang.

The next day, Wednesday, the Japanese planes came at noon. They were already flying over Manila when the air raid siren at the Post Office by the Pasig started wailing. The planes first hit Cavite naval base and then did Nichols over again. Elias and his father were caught in Pasay during the raid. At the corner of Cuneta and Harrison, not far from their house, and as they with others were looking at the truck-mounted anti-air craft gun manned by two Americans, the Japanese planes flew over the neighborhood. The ac-ac gun as it was called by the soldiers went boom-boom-boom in rapid fire, and the civilians ran away in several directions. His father pulled him towards a vacant lot where there were a few uninstalled culverts. They hid in one of them and waited. One of the planes returned and dropped a couple of bombs at the anti-air craft gun. The first explosion shook the ground and their culvert rolled a few yards; the next blast made it roll back. Then they heard what seemed like rolling thunder. The planes had hit Nichols. When it was all clear, they found the gun destroyed and the crew blasted away. He saw shreds of flesh and uniform hanging from the branches of the mango tree nearby. Then he threw up.

After that he was no longer allowed to go with his father in forays to the city or Pasay. He was limited to watching the war from the house on Mayon—with its panoramic view of Manila to the west and the open fields of the newly named Quezon City to the east. Air raids became regular, and the siren had become more efficient. It took only a minute after the siren for the bombers flying in silvery formation to appear over Manila. The anti-aircraft guns from Fort McKinley and Luneta would start firing but he had yet to see a Japanese plane hit.

Once they saw a dogfight. A lone Japanese fighter plane was sighted going north pursued by a Philippine army plane from Zablan Field near Camp Murphy. There was cheering for the Filipino pilot flying the Curtis pursuit plane with fixed landing gear and open cockpit. Maybe it’s Villamor, some said. As the two planes tried to get into each other’s behind, there was a burst of machine gun fire and some bullets sprayed the roof of the house. People ran to seek cover. Just then the planes disengaged with the Filipino plane going into a dive toward Zablan and the Japanese plane continuing its flight north. Since then, they decided not to watch anymore dogfights out in the street.

The house in Mayon had become the refuge of five more families and the evenings were spent talking about the war: the landings in Lingayen, Atimonan and Mauban.

On Christmas Day the older children organized a party complete with program and exchange of gifts. There was community singing of carols and solo numbers of song hits like “Apple Blossom Time,” “Maria Elena,” “Star Dust,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The last song never failed to stir thoughts of Daisy, and while everyone was busy in the program he slipped to their room and read her two letters—the touchstones to a time of innocence and peace that he fervently wished would return soon.

Jimmy was no longer around for he had enlisted on December 15, the same day he learned there was no exam for the military academy. His mother cried when he saw Jimmy in a maong suit with a cartridge belt, canteen, and an ROTC helmet painted fatigue green. He had an Enfield slung over his shoulder.

In the last week of December the USAFFE began its withdrawal to Bataan. Army trucks and commandeered buses filled with soldiers passed by way of Mayon St. lined with people giving the victory sign to the retreating troops. They saw and waved at Jimmy in one of the buses. He looked as if he were going on scout camping, waving back at them. His mother cried through the night.

By December 29, with Manila declared an open city, the Japanese bombed the ships along the Pasig and also hit Sto. Domingo, the Intendencia, the Herald building, and other parts of Intramuros. Camilo Osias whom every student knew as the author of the Reader, went on the air with his cry of “Remember Sto. Domingo!”

Then there were loud explosions. The Pandacan oil tanks were on fire, so was the Port Area. Huge billows of smoke had risen over Manila darkening the sky and shutting out the sun. There was looting in the Port Area and downtown Manila. More trucks and buses passed through Mayon, and now the soldiers looked grim and the people were no longer cheering as much. He first saw it in his mother’s grief over the departure of Jimmy. Then he saw it in his father’s face.

That night Elias took out Daisy’s letters and went across the street into a field where he stood for a while under a starless sky. Then he tore the letters into small bits and flung them in the darkness.

New Year, he saw the enemy in camouflage coming up the street in bicycles.

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